When you look at a map of Africa it is easy to think those countries have always existed. But they have not. Before the movement for African independence the continent was divided up completely differently. For example the area we know today as the countries Zambia and Zimbabwe used to be one territory known as Rhodesia. Before independence these territories were ruled by European powers in a period known as the colonial era.
Under European rule government policy was led by European officials. For many Africans this situation was seen as very unfair. They saw Africa as their land and they should decide how it was run, not the European. This feeling led to the development of a number of African nationalist movements. These movements, led by figures such as Julius Nyerere in Tanzania and Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana, became very popular in the 1930s and 1940s. Local nationalist associations and clubs were set up to promote the national cause against the European government.
Under pressure both at home and in the colonies the British government eventually gave in to nationalist demands. In 1957 Ghana, with Nkrumah as Prime Minister, was granted independence. This led to a wave of independence across Africa. In 1960, for example, a remarkable sixteen African countries were granted independence!
TOWARDS A UNITED AFRICA
After getting independence African nationalists set up their new countries and gave them constitutions. For most nationalists independence was enough and this was seen as successful. But some nationalists, most importantly Nkrumah, said that independence for African countries was not enough. The territories they had established at independence, he explained, were the same as European powers had forced them to take on when they ruled the continent. In reality, Nkrumah argued, Africa should be a united continent like the United States of America.
In the end not enough people believed in African unity for Nkrumah to be successful. However his words did lead to the establishment of the Organisation of African Unity in 1963. In this organisation the new African countries promised to cooperate with each other. Overall African independence led to a new set of African countries, with completely new governments and rulers, willing to work alongside each other to build the continent again!